Friday, February 23, 2007

Human Rights in China: Cultural genocide

The ongoing tragedy of Tibet has fallen off the international radar of late, but as the Olympic Games draw closer it is necessary to highlight China's crimes in Tibet.

The following article on the "21st Century Vision" provides a useful overview:

" Continuing our occasional series on conflicts the world has forgotten we turn to Tibet. Maybe this is stretching things a little, as the gentle and statesmanlike Dalai Lama and the Free Tibet Campaign manage to keep the public at least minimally informed, but still it does not exactly rate highly on the political agenda. 'Conflict' is also a bit of a misnomer since, as with our earlier pieces on Western Sahara and West Papua, the conflict is entirely one-sided. The deeply-religious Buddhist Tibetans don't even try to fight back, except for a desperate uprising in 1959 and since then with civil disobedience, which they practice with exemplary courage.

The Chinese invaded Tibet in 1950, without the shadow of an excuse beyond the need (?) to bring communism to as much of the world as they could. Populated largely with monks and herdsmen Tibet was a pushover. Mao promised the Tibetans that the Chinese would leave once 'liberation' was completed ('Liberation' from what was never explained - there were no capitalists in Tibet). The promise of course was not kept, leading to that abortive uprising in 1959, in which an estimated 430,000 Tibetans were killed (the Chinese said 87,000). 100,000 more, including the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and (until 1950) temporal leader of Tibet, fled into exile in India. A further 340,000 died in the next few years as the economy, destabilised by the Chinese, collapsed and famines (previously unknown) hit the country.

The cultural revolution, also known euphemistically as the 'Great Leap Forward', did not spare Tibet. Thousands of monasteries were destroyed and tens of thousands of Tibetans ended up in Labour camps. The assault on Tibetan culture had begun, and continues unabated to this day, even though the political climate in China now is very different to what it was under Mao. Although destruction of monasteries has ceased - there are not very many left - persecution of monks and a general suppression of the Buddhist religion continues, particularly as monks and nuns tend to be the ones who most often perform acts of defiance. Their reward is usually a long prison sentence and brutal 're-education' amounting to endemic torture.

In 1995 the Panchen Lama, the second most holy man in the Tibetan Buddhist establishment, died. The child named by monks as his re-incarnation, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, disappeared together with his whole family and has never been seen again. The Chinese authorities declared another boy to be the Panchen Lama, and have kept him isolated ever since so he could be suitably brainwashed.

There has been a steady, officially encouraged influx of Han Chinese into the country, to the point where native Tibetans are now outnumbered in their own land. Chinese has replaced Tibetan as the official language.

Through all this the Tibetan people cling stubbornly to their traditions and beliefs. They refuse to let their culture die, although it gets harder all the time. The repression does not let up. The total death toll since 1950 is now estimated at 1.2 million. Just last November, a group of 40 or so Tibetans attempting to flee through the Nangpa La Pass to Nepal were fired on in full sight of climbers at the Everest Base Camp. At least two were killed, and the rest rounded up and (according to the testimony of one who subsequently made a successful escape) beaten and tortured over several days. Video footage of the shooting has circled the world to the embarrassment of the Chinese, so at least the deaths were not completely in vain."

For information on Free Tibet activities in Australia click here.

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